JPMorgan has developed a powerful data-collection tool to monitor its employees, dubbed WADU.
Employees at America’s largest bank fear what the data collection could mean for their jobs.
One staffer described a workplace where terms like “Big Brother” and “1984” have become commonplace.
Editor’s note: This story was first published in May 2022. It was updated in May 2023 to reflect the bank’s latest return-to-office policies.
At JPMorgan Chase, watchful eyes are everywhere, according to employees.
In April, JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon ordered the bank’s managing directors, its highest ranks under the C-Suite, to return to the office five days a week to be “visible on the floor.” All other employees were also ordered to return to the office at least three days a week or “face corrective action,” according to a copy of the memo obtained by Insider.
For those wondering how the bank will keep track of which employees require “corrective action,” look no further than a report Insider published last year about the bank’s powerful surveillance techniques, which allow it to track everything from ID badge swipes to time spent on Zoom calls.
“Amongst a lot of people, you will hear the term ‘Big Brother,’ and you will hear the term ‘1984,’” one US-based employee told Insider at the time, referencing the dystopian novel by George Orwell.
“It’s fostered paranoia. It’s fostered distrust. And, to be honest with you, it’s fostered a lot of disrespect,” this person said. “There’s a lot of sentiment around Chase that we’re just a number. That’s all we are.”
One of the bank’s most powerful data-collection tools is called the “Workplace Activity Data Utility” (or “WADU” for short), which JPMorgan built shortly before the advent of the coronavirus pandemic, according to this Insider report from May 2022.
How WADU operates is a bit of a mystery, even to people inside the bank. Still, Insider was able to glean some details by talking to more than half a dozen current and former bank employees, including what WADU tracks, who it tracks, and how it makes its findings known to JPMorgan managers.
For more details on how JPMorgan Chase’s WADU system works and what kinds of data it tracks about employees, read Insider’s full story here.
At the time of the report, a JPMorgan official pointed Insider to language on the bank’s intranet that says that the information WADU gathers is intended to shore up “business efficiency, resiliency and workplace health and safety” — and “may not be used for any other purposes,” such as “employment action.”
But employees said they were largely unaware of such disclosures and that bank managers, in practice, have tied data collected in the system to threats of employment action. Employees were granted anonymity to discuss how WADU works and how it impacted company staff since they were not authorized to speak with reporters.
Employees also explained some of the unusual tactics they had adopted to evade the system’s detection, including downloading a mouse jiggler to keep the bank’s virtual workspace from automatically timing out due to inactivity.
Another employee within the firm’s commercial-banking division said she and her colleagues resorted to discussing sensitive work-related topics on forums like the iMessage app, even though doing so runs afoul of the bank’s rules governing compliant communications.
“They are becoming more like a government and less like an employer,” this person said.
Are you an employee at JPMorgan Chase? Contact these reporters. Reed Alexander can be reached at email@example.com or via the encrypted app Signal/SMS at (561) 247-5758. Emmalyse Brownstein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or Signal/SMS at (305) 857-5516.
Read the original article on Business Insider